Sunday December 6 2020 is set to be a notable date on this year’s calendar, as a six year mission for the Asteroid Explorer Hayabusa2 comes to a fiery end in South Australia.
The world will be watching as the Japanese mission returns, bringing asteroid samples back to Earth.
Woomera, South Australia, has been chosen as the landing site for the spacecraft’s return to Earth, with plans underway to close the Sturt Highway and Woomera Prohibited Area on the day of impact.
Hayabusa2 launched in December 2014 to study the asteroid Ryugu and collect samples to bring to Earth for analysis.
After the Hayabusa2 spacecraft arrived at the asteroid in June 2018, it deployed two rovers and a small lander onto the surface. These were the first rovers ever to operate on an asteroid.
Hayabusa2 then fired an impactor into the asteroid in February 2019 to create an artificial crater. This allowed the spacecraft to collect a sample from beneath the surface of the asteroid.
For space lovers, scientists, or just curious members of the public, you can follow Hayabusa2’s re-entry to Earth along from home thanks to an augmented reality app.
The Reentry AR app displays the trajectory of the re-entry capsule of Asteroid Explorer Hayabusa2. This app simulates the track of the capsule from either your real location, or the neighbourhood of the landing site.
The re-entry capsule will fly in from the Northwest, and then land in the Woomera Prohibited Area.
For safety reasons, access to the Woomera Prohibited Area and travel on the Stuart Highway will be suspended for the Hayabusa2 capsule re-entry. Roadblocks will be in place. A87 Stuart highway will be closed after 10pm local time on December 5.
If you’re wanting to witness the re-entry near Woomera, please find a location outside of the WPA to observe the Hayabusa2 sample return capsule’s fireball, or utilise the app.
The fireball appearance time is estimated to be between 3:30am – 4:30am on Sunday December 6, however the exact time will be confirmed closer to landing.
It will be visible as a bright point of light for about 90 seconds and the speed of movement will be fastest as it passes overhead. Observations should be able to be made in any open area.
After returning to Earth in December 2020, Hayabusa2 will separate the capsule and return to deep space. As about half of the fuel (xenon) for the ion engine is expected to remain at this time, the explorer will continue on to a new mission – to visit a very small asteroid called 1998 KY26. At only 30m across, it was a world-first to rendezvous with this type of asteroid.
Hayabusa2 will use this long cruise period to make scientific observations. One of these will observe the zodiacal light as the distance from the Sun changes, revealing the distribution of dust in planetary space.
They will also try to observe transit phenomena, as exoplanets pass in front of their stars.
The 11 year journey will culminate in Hayabusa2’s arrival at 1998 KY26 in 2031. The tiny asteroid spins rapidly, rotating a full 360 degrees in only ten minutes.
As large meteorites that are likely to impact the earth, are believed to be the same type of asteroid as 1998 KY26, knowing its characteristics are therefore very important for planetary defence.
Download the Reentry AR app here: https://apps.apple.com/au/app/reentry-ar/id1536701365